Dear Bar Association. My number one goal isn't to be civil.
The front cover of our bar association journal announces a new series: “Raising the Bar: The promise of Civility in Our Profession.”
My skin is crawling and not because I’m a total beast.
I am all in favor of being civil whenever possible. But sometimes it isn’t. At least not for trial lawyers. Our duty is to help our clients get a fair shake. Rules require that we behave. But since when did I need to focus on being kind and gracious to the other side. Especially when they are trying to do bad things.
Should I smile sweetly as they tear into my 16 year old client who is crying on the witness stand.
Should I be affable when they ask the father if he is posing for a picture that shows him lifting his daughter into a wheelchair.
Should I be polite when they say my airline captain pilot (and four other witnesses) are lying about the condition of a doorway.
Should I have be nice and accommodating when the defense lawyer acts like I am his employee and tells (not asks but tells) me to put his exhibit up on my projector so the jurors can see it.
Excuse me. Being polite is one thing. But if I was to be sweet, affable, polite and nice all the time – I’d be a terrible trial lawyer!
Jurors don’t want us sniping at each other. But they also don’t expect us to be loving friends. We are opponents.
Bad manners are unfortunate. Some attorneys should definitely go to charm school. But there is danger in the misconception that the goal of the legal process is to make and foster friendships. After all, “Nothing is to be preferred before justice.” Socrates. Lawyers have a duty to act as “guardians of the law” in order to preserve the existence of a free and democratic society. If we are not advocates first and foremost, then it is irrelevant whether we are polite or not.
Plaintiff trial lawyers are used to fighting for the underdog. There is nothing civilized about letting bullies crush the weak. Litigation is often by its very nature, a battle. It is one that can and should be fought with the appearance of grace and dignity. With all due respect dear bar association, I intend to be aggressive, relentless, passionate, effective and a tireless advocates for the sake of my clients and the cause of justice. My politeness comes with teeth.